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BETRAYED TRUST: The Story of a Deported Issei and His American-Born Family During World War II - Foreword Part 1

Betrayed Trust: The Story of a Deported Issei and His American-born Family during World War II is a truly remarkable book. While there are now extant numerous published studies (fiction as well as non-fiction) that illuminate the controversial Tule Lake Segregation Center, Betrayed Trust is the first book-length manuscript to interpret it via the fascinating perspective of a key leader in that concentration camp’s much demonized but little understood (and actually quite diverse and fiercely contested) resegregation movement).

The book’s author is Motomu “Tom” Akashi (1929-2012), the Nisei-Sansei (American-born U.S. citizen) son of the Issei (Japanese immigrant ineligible for U.S. citizenship) resegregation leader Sanae Paul Akashi (1893-1979)—whose wartime experiences serve as the volume’s palpable core—and his Nisei (American-born U.S. citizen) wife, Kiyoshi Vivian Morimoto (1906-1995).

As a teenager at the Tule Lake Segregation Center, where he was imprisoned with his parents and his siblings in September 1943 (following the family’s earlier incarceration at the Tanforan Assembly Center and the Topaz Relocation Center), Motomu both studiously observed (recording what he witnessed in a diary maintained by him at his father’s prompting) and actively participated in the resegregation movement (as a member and bugler in a stridently nationalistic junior auxiliary organization).

Motomu Akashi’s manuscript is significant for myriad reasons, which I will later explain, but its chief importance is in illuminating the story of the resegregationists. They initially operated as a medley of underground groups at the Tule Lake Segregation Center by pursuing, in differing ways, the common goal of correcting the War Relocation Authority’s failure to segregate “pro-Americans” from “pro-Japanese” (so-called “loyals” from so-called “disloyals”), which was the avowed rationale for the center’s 1943 transformation from a “relocation” into a “segregation” center.

After July 1944, when the passage of the Renunciation Law prompted the resegregationists to add renunciation of U.S. citizenship as one of their objectives for the Tule Lake population, the various resegregation factions came out into the open and, according to historian Donald Collins, “at least nominally . . . dominate[d] the entire camp.”1

To counteract this development, the camp authorities arrested seventy of the principal resegregation leaders, including Sanae Akashi, on December 28, 1944, and had them removed from the center and sent to an internment camp for enemy aliens operated by the Department of Justice. Within three months, a total of 946 more resegregation leaders and members were similarly arrested and transferred from Tule Lake to DOJ camps, thereby crippling the movement and hastening its demise.

After the surrender of Japan to the United States in August 1945, most (or at least a great many) of these resegregationists, including Sanae Akashi, were deported to war-ravaged Japan, often accompanied by their family members (as was the case with Sanae Akashi’s wife Kiyoshi and six children, who—along with some 4,500 others—set sail on the U.S.S. General Gordon transport ship from Portland, Oregon, to Japan on December 29, 1945).

While some critics might be tempted to dismiss Betrayed Trust as a strange blend of memoir and history, this very hybridity commends the book to me as an exceptionally important study. Having been involved in the field of Japanese American historical inquiry now for over thirty years, I have been struck by the extent to which the development of the field, most particularly as regards the topic of the World War II exclusion and incarceration experience, has been driven by the work of “community historians.” Indeed, for many years, Roger Daniels was practically the only “professional historian” to focus on this field, though since World War II it had attracted critical scholarly attention from sociologists, anthropologists, political scientists, and other academic social scientists.

Following Daniels’s seminal study, Concentration Camps USA: Japanese Americans and World War II (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), the next path-breaking book on the camps was the late Michi Nishiura Weglyn’s Years of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps (New York: William Morrow, 1976). Ironically, through Daniels’s intervention the American Historical Review chose me to review Years of Infamy. My overall evaluation was that Weglyn’s book would provide the interpretive paradigm for the next generation of historical work done on the subject (which actually happened).

Certainly, I agreed with the Japanese American activist-cum-community historian Raymond Okamura in his assessment of the book, which University of California, Santa Cruz historian Alice Yang Murray summarized in What Did the Internment of Japanese Americans Mean? (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2000): “[This] ‘theatrical designer with no historical training’ found an ‘astonishing number of facts previously de-emphasized, ignored, or censored.’ [She has shattered] the ‘previous image of WRA-benevolence-inmate cooperation.’ [The book is a] ‘major breakthrough for the telling of Japanese American history from a Japanese American perspective.’” Moreover, as Yang Murray observed in this same context, “Weglyn’s book gave many Japanese Americans the courage to speak out publicly about their experiences” (a point which would be dramatized five years later during the community hearings held around the country by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians).

Still another impact this book by Weglyn, a onetime high school student at the Gila River concentration camp in Arizona, had on Japanese Americans was to turn many of them into archivists as well as historians. Not only had Weglyn produced a stunning book, but readers of it soon became aware that Years of Infamy was built upon the seven years she spent conducting research at the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the Pentagon, and that this research convinced her that “the gaps of the evacuation era appeared more like chasms.”

When she sought to get the book published, she initially met with resistance from publishers who found her book “objectionable” because she treated U.S. government officials so harshly. Ultimately, however, William Morrow published the book because by 1976 the climate of the country had changed markedly toward the nation’s political leadership thanks to the Watergate scandal and the release of the Pentagon Papers.

Motomu Akashi’s Betrayed Trust is a book written in the tradition of Michi Weglyn’s Years of Infamy. Both Nisei authors were in their teens during camp and thus the emotional core of their respective books is their personal experience of being deprived of U.S. citizenship rights and condemned to live with their family and racial-ethnic community behind barbed wire in a wartime concentration camp.

On the other hand, whereas Weglyn’s book was silent about the facts of her and her family’s life before, during, and after their incarceration at Gila, this very same subject matter is central to Akashi’s study. But Akashi, like Weglyn before him, has invested heavily in archival research for producing his manuscript. (In fact, my sole meeting with Motomu Akashi occurred in 1989 when, by chance, I encountered him and his brother Tosh in the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, where we were simultaneously researching documentation in the Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study collection housed there.)

Unlike Weglyn, Akashi supplemented his archival research with not only his own and his family members’ memories of their wartime experience, but also through extensive and intensive fieldwork interviewing with key individuals, in the United States and Japan, who were involved in the events he describes about the Resegregation Movement at Tule Lake. Weglyn, too, discussed some of the same events, personalities, and dynamics at the Tule Lake Segregation Center as Askashi, devoting a substantial portion of the last half of her book to this situation. But she does so from the perspective of a passionately engaged historian rather than from a participant-observer historian like Motomu Akashi.

Part 2 >>


1. See Collins’s entry for the “segregation center” stage of the Tule Lake camp in Brian Niiya, ed., Encyclopedia of Japanese American History: An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present (Los Angeles: Japanese American National Museum, 2001): 396. Collins is the author of Native American Aliens: Disloyalty and the Renunciation of Citizenship by Japanese Americans during World War II (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1985).

*This article was originally published as the Foreword for Betrayed Trust:The Story of a Deported Issei and His American-born Family during World War II by AuthorHouse Press in 2004.

© 2004 Arthur A. Hansen

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